OPINION: Shock hides the chilling truth

Lisa Harker, chair of the Daycare Trust but writes in a personal capacity

Most campaigning organisations would give their eye teeth to work with an ad agency, but few charities can afford it. Yet Barnardo's current campaign is a reminder that ad agencies are very good at selling organisations but not very good at campaigning.

The £1m 'silver spoons' campaign, by Bartle Bogle Hegarty, has certainly got a great deal of attention. Its images of newborn babies, with either a cockroach, syringe or bottle of meths in their mouths, are certainly arresting. Within hours, complaints were being lodged, prompting an investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority and much debate. Both, of course, have helped to further raise the campaign's profile.

Barnardo's ought to be delighted. The last time it launched a similarly provocative campaign, donations increased by 60 per cent.

But Barnardo's claims its motivation for launching the campaign wasn't about increasing its services, but about challenging public perceptions of child poverty. It says it was shocked by evidence from a survey it commissioned showing most people were unaware that one in three of Britain's children lived in poverty. Nearly half thought that the correct figure was closer to one in fifty or one in a hundred.

The photographs Barnardo's and BBH have produced leave a lasting impression, but it is hard to see how they will convince people that child poverty is prevalent in Britain.

Although there is plenty of evidence that many babies are born into poverty, and that this increases their chances of later drug misuse, alcoholism and homelessness, thankfully there is as yet no evidence that a third of Britain's babies are being overrun by cockroaches.

It's difficult to see, then, how the Barnardo's campaign is going to convince people that they should take seriously the less visible evidence that child poverty really does exist on a significant scale. It seems as if this particular ad agency advised its client that putting across a striking image would do more to challenge public perceptions than an accurate picture.

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